Day 4 into the Philippine adventure and the theme of the day is rapids. A full day of white water kayaking with a side adventure of waterfall repelling and the most unique hot tub experience I’ve ever had.
The day starts early with a 6:30am pick up by my guide Jodil who works for Tribal Adventures, the local tour outfit that organizes this trip. This was my far my costliest excursion of the trip but it’s primarily because I was the only one in my tour. October is still off season here in Philippines and it’s a 10-12 hour day which many avoid. Throw a few others in and it’s more than a reasonable price but I didn’t care. This was an adventure I was looking forward to. It was almost 2 hours to get to our destination. 30 min on a trike, 20 to jetty boat over to the mainland and just over an hour of driving to the mountains. The drive itself is an adventure. Imagine a road full of tricycles and mopeds and we are in a big Toyota van dodging all of this at 60 mph. Not one horn. Not one angry gesture. It’s just how things work here.
Before we could arrive at our destination we had to stop and pick up lunch. I’m not talking sandwiches or fast food. I’m talking about fresh fish caught earlier that morning. A Whole chicken. The freshest of fresh vegetables. All in a bustling farmers market that was tarped to easily accommodate the average Filipino height. I’m 6’1 so I pretty much was in the crouch position for 20 minutes holding mangos, a dead chicken and rice. Feel the burn.
We then set upon our arrival to our destination at the kayak Inn which is ground zero for our adventures today. We met the Filipino family that lives here all year round managing the inn and organizing the food and hot tubs (more on that later) There are 6 kids and about as many dogs which scurry around the grounds. Assuredly I will find another canine fiend today. Everyone is happy and very welcoming as always. I realize now why our guide bought so much food for lunch to feed one guest….most of it goes to the family on site.
We started off on a quick waterfall hike with our guide Ryan. I know his name is Ryan because that was the name on his shirt but not one word came from his mouth. He’s a nice local kid who is designated to take tourists to the local waterfall. Jodil came with us too. Imagine a 3 level waterfall, each with its own pool to swim. We made it up to the top, the last part of which required rapelling up using a rope and some hopefully sturdy well gripped shoes to make it up the sheer cliff. We made it surprisingly easily though I found a new level of sweating I did not think possible. Jumping into the cool pool of natural spring water was welcome relief.
A 30 min hike back to the Kayak Inn and a hearty lunch and it’s kayak time.
These are special Filipino style kayaks that are sit on top style with special drainage to keep the water from pooling too much. They cut through the water so easily. I had some kayak experience before but almost entirely of the sea type excursions. Regardless the safety lesson was brief ( Go down the river. Don’t fall out. If you fall out reminder that you signed the waiver and the check has already cleared my friend) The outfit actually takes safety very seriously and had another kayak guide and 2 spotters down the river to guide me to the exact spots to navigate to. I never felt they would not be there to rescue my ass if I got into a pickle. It was a 4-1 ratio guides to me. Plus 2 of the family dogs that accompanied us on the trip and hitched a ride to the back of kayak when they feel like it.
I felt confident and perhaps a touch brazen which quickly evaporated when I got caught up on a shallow rock not 30 seconds into the trip and had to be turned around by one of the spotters who “walked” over in 3 feet of water to help me. But I quickly recovered what was left of my manhood by navigating through the first few rapids unscathed. These are class 2 and 3 and while they don’t look that big of a deal from the shore its verified sphincter tightening scary when you are going through the rapids in an open kayak. You try your best just to point the boat downhill and the water decides what comes next.
We are down to the final rapid which is full class 3 and narrow. This is actually the pull out area above the rapid for most of the tourists but the consensus from the guide team is that I’m good enough to get through it. My chest extends slightly outward simultaneously with a slight head expansion. I’m back to full strut mode. I see a handful of local Filipino boys purched on a rock at the bottom of the rapid. Clearly word has spread quickly that a pasty white foreign prodigy has descended upon this tiny town. They are here to witness this first hand, or compete for the 500 pesos to retrieve my body. Either way I feel like I’m making a contribution.
My guide gives a few final instructions, a motivational tap on the helmet like a team coming out of a huddle on the final drive of the game. No timeouts left. It’s win or go home. And 30 seconds in on the tiniest of rapids of what is to come I get dumped into the water and now I’m dog paddling to survive. Even the dogs, who adored me, again admittedly driven almost entirely by my pork table scrap generosity, can’t look at me now. Imagine a scene from the Simpsons when Homer is rolling head over feet getting smashed, a rapid succession of “Dohs!”
The local Filipino kids admiration quickly transitions to a scoring a quick 500 pesos but even that hope is dashed as I am able to get through the rapids relatively unscathed save for my ego which is still pierced on one of the rocks from now to the end of time. I hear a monument is in the works. Philippine President Duterte exchanges tweets with Donald Trump to consult on my new nick name. They agree on Litl Canadian Hoser while my U.S. citizenship is revoked. But even at my lowest Jodil my guide fishes me out the water at the bottom and gives me a big grin smile. I think he enjoyed it more that I fell in. I love that guy.
Waterlogged but still in good spirits we shuttle back to the Inn where I’m offered (and eagerly accept) a cold San Miguel. Part of the tour experience is a hot tub which is essentially a large cast iron pot with water that is heated by fire below. It’s set to about 104 degrees and filled with a concoction of native leaves, some special bark and other various ingredients that are supposed to bring some medicinal effects. I ask the local hot tub preparer guy if they have anything in there to heal egos. He just stares at me with a big smile. There is no cure for that whitey. I hop in because when it’s 85 degrees all day with 100% humidity that mandates 3 shirt changes a day what’s better than to jump in water that is 20 degrees warmer? Go with it. The hot tub guy hovers and asks me how I like it. Takes a few pictures. Keeps smiling. I can’t help but think something is off here. He offers if I can stay for dinner. But is that a question or statement? I look down at the water. That’s not eucalyptus leaves. Those are bay leaves! That’s not local tree bark. Those are peppercorns! And why are there wedges of onion scattered throughout the water? I’m not being hot tubbed. I’m being slow roasted! Brined Canadian Pork! It’s time to go.
2 hours and 3 modes of transportation later I’m back in Boracay and while a local Filipino family won’t be having pork tonight they can still savor the time they saw a Canadian boy take on the rapids and dog paddle his way to (Not) glory.
Special thanks to the gang of Tribal Adventures for organizing an amazing day. I highly recommend them and will be using them again next week in Coron for another kayak and snorkeling adventure!